Gunstock Presents $45.5 Million Expansion Proposal
The proposed Master Development Plan includes 31 new trails and four new lifts.
Saturday, December 4, 2021, NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com
Snow guns were blasting top-to-bottom Saturday afternoon as a standing-room only crowd listened to the Gunstock Area Commission's Master Development Plan presentation.
Commissioners Brian Gallagher and Gary Kiedaisch (former Stowe CEO) discussed the process, handing over the presentation to General Manager Tom Day. Day took over as General Manager of the county-owned ski area in January of 2020, following the retirement of Greg Goddard (also in attendance).
Day noted that the 2020-21 season featured record skier visits, night skier visits, season pass sales, and overall revenue from COVID-19 impacts and that the momentum was expected to continue. Day also called out the new lifts being installed at Loon and Waterville Valley, the recent gondola and summit lodge project at Bretton Woods, and the multi-lift master development plan at Sunapee (which he referred to as a "very direct competitor"), stating that "if you don't catch up, you lose."
Claire Humber from SE Group walked through the multi-phase, $45.5 million expansion plan, which would take Gunstock from an average of 172,200 skier visits to 294,200. Skiable terrain would grow from 227 to 415 acres, with the trail count increasing from 48 to 79. Three new high speed quads and one new triple would be installed. Humber echoed Day's prognosis, that without sequential and serial disciplined capital investments, ski areas fail.
The first phase of the plan would involve replacing the Ramrod and Tiger chairlifts with a 700 vertical foot high speed quad (using an extended alignment similar to that of Ramrod). One new trail would be cut off the top of that complex. Other projects would include a new summit lodge, a summit auto road, and rental cabins along the road.
The second phase would be Eastside, which would be generally located between the auto road and the existing ski area. A roughly 1,100 vertical foot high speed quad would serve this intermediate to expert complex, providing a second lift to the summit. The new terrain (and auto road) would also provide access to a mid-mountain hotel.
The third phase would involve reactivating the defunct Alpine Ridge ski area. A roughly 700 foot vertical fixed grip triple would be installed, serving intermediate and expert terrain. In order to connect to the main mountain, the Penny Pitou quad would be realigned and extended uphill into intermediate terrain.
The fourth phase would be Backside, which would require the acquisition of land or land use rights (including the former Gunstock Ski Hoist location). A roughly 1,100 vertical foot high speed quad would serve intermediate and expert terrain on the northwest side of the mountain. Since the bottom is a residential area, there would be no base area development. Day emphasized that the lift would be a top drive and that snowmaking would leverage new HKD guns that cannot be heard from beyond 150 feet, so neighbors would not be disturbed by noise.
Commissioner Rusty McLear discussed the proposed hotel, suggesting that the mid-mountain ski-in/ski-out location had more potential than the lodging facilities he developed in Meredith. Gary Kiedaisch discussed the revenue potential for the privately-developed hotel, including land lease fees and a portion of revenues.
A Heidi Pruess, a local Olympic skier, tearfully described not being able to bring her father to the top of the mountain when he was wheelchair-bound and the difference the auto road could have made. Echoing Day and Humber, Pruess stated, "if you don't grow, you fail." Fellow local Olympian Penny Pitou mentioned that she was eager to ski the Fletcher Hale Trail again.
The commission opened the meeting to questions, fielding concerns about the impact to the natural environment, increased neighborhood traffic, and prior issues with debt. Commissioner Gallagher ended the meeting 20 minutes early, asking those who did not get a chance to speak to write their comments on cards that were provided at the exit.
The Gunstock Area Commission has been involved in a highly publicized conflict with the local legislative delegation, which has been critical of the master development plan process and reportedly has plans to dismiss multiple commissioners.
Gunstock plans to open for the season on December 10 with top-to-bottom skiing.